Apple misses Wall Street 4Q expectations

NEW YORK (AP) - Apple has a new iPhone, two new iPads and three new PCs as it heads into the holiday quarter, the biggest selling season of the year. But, paradoxically, it expects these new gadgets to bring down its profits compared to last year.

The reason: the new gadgets are expensive to make, said Apple’s chief financial officer late Thursday after the company reported earnings for the most recent quarter that missed analysts’ expectations for the second straight time.

In part, the issues facing Apple are a normal consequence of having so many new products, said CFO Peter Oppenheimer. When a production line is new it costs more to run and the components are more expensive.

“The difference this time is the sheer number of products we’re introducing at a short time,” Oppenheimer told analysts on a call Thursday.

But Oppenheimer also singled out the iPad Mini, the new, smaller version of the iPad the country unveiled Tuesday. It starts at $329, well above the $199 competitors charge for similar products. Apple’s price is “aggressive,” with a margin well below other products, Oppenheimer said.

“When we set out to build the iPad Mini, we didn’t set out to build a small, cheap tablet, we set out to build a smaller iPad that offered the full iPad experience” Oppenheimer said.

Apple expects a gross profit margin of 36 percent in the current quarter, the lowest figure in at least four years. In the holiday quarter last year, its gross margin was 44.7 percent.

The gross margin represents what Apple gets from selling its products, minus the cost of making them. It ignores the cost of research and development, marketing and corporate overhead.

On the same call, CEO Tim Cook justified the projected profit drop to Wall Street in similar terms.

“We’re unwilling to cut corners in delivering the best product experience in the world,” he said. “We’re managing the company for the long run.”

Apple launched the iPhone 5 a month ago. This week, it unveiled the iPad Mini and an upgraded full-size iPad, plus a new MacBook laptop and two desktop Macs.

Apple said it expects earnings of $11.75 per share in the holiday quarter, below the $13.87 per share it earned in the same period last year. Apple routinely lowballs its estimates, but this time the forecast was further from the analyst estimate than usual. Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting earnings of $15.59, on average.

Apple expects sales of $52 billion, roughly in line with the analyst expectation of $56 billion, considering the company’s conservative forecasts.

Apple shares fell $6.33, or 1 percent, to $603.47, extending a downward trend for the stock, which hit an all-time high of $705.07 a month ago, on the day the iPhone 5 went on sale in the U.S. and eight countries.

Apple reported its results as Microsoft Corp. was set to launch Windows 8 on Friday, along with its first tablet computer, the Surface. Cook said that while he had not used the Surface himself, he gathered from reviews that it was a “fairly compromised, confusing product” that tries to do too many things. Part of Microsoft’s message is that the Surface will double as a laptop. It’s including a full version of its Office suite on the product and will be selling covers that act as keyboards.

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